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A Photographer Says He's Traumatized By What He's Captured In Portland

"Last night was the most horrifying thing I have ever experienced in my life."

Posted on July 21, 2020, at 6:08 p.m. ET

Two armed soldiers with gas masks on, a third is seen in the background with a fire extinguisher. One points his weapon at the camera.
Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

Federal agents point their weapons at photographer Mathieu Lewis-Roland, who was unarmed, on July 20 in Portland, Oregon.

Photographer Mathieu Lewis-Rolland was on scene at Monday night's anti–police brutality protests in Portland when he captured a striking image: a federal officer pointing their weapon directly at him.

The officer, like many currently in the city under orders from the Trump administration, is wearing a camouflage uniform, a helmet, and a gas mask as he stares directly at the camera.

The evening of violence left Lewis-Rolland extremely shaken. "I hadn’t seen the feds raise their guns like they did tonight," he told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview Tuesday. "I saw them pointing them at everybody and anyone, including me."

"Last night was the most horrifying thing I have ever experienced in my life," he said. "I got shot at, gassed more times than I can imagine."

A music and wedding photographer, Lewis-Rolland began heading out to photograph the protests in Portland nearly every night since they began two months ago, saying he felt compelled to document the violence happening against protesters from police and the Federal Protective Service police.

"I can't turn my back. But I fear for my life," he posted on Facebook at 6 a.m. local time on Tuesday, having been awake all night.

He spoke to BuzzFeed News shortly afterward, saying he feared protesters will be killed.

He shared three photos of officers with guns drawn, one aiming straight at him, two others using weapons with laser points.

"I have three photos of that but it happened way more," he said. "So much of the time I was running away and shooting from the hip with my camera, holding the shutter button as I ran."

An armed soldier points his pistol at protesters.
Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

For more than 50 nights, protesters in Portland have continued to demonstrate against racial injustice and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in May.

Tensions have escalated in recent days after the Trump administration deployed a militarized task force to the area under an executive order to protect national landmarks.

This task force — comprised of officers from the Department of Homeland Security, the US Marshals Service, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — has been criticized for violating civil rights of the protesters by apprehending individuals without probable cause in unmarked vehicles.

Nathan Howard / Getty Images

A crowd of about 1,500 protesters gather at the Multnomah County Justice center for a Black Lives Matter march in Portland on July 20.

President Trump depicts Portland as a city under siege, needing federal law enforcement to wrest control of its downtown from protesters.

But those on the ground say the protests are limited to mainly four blocks (which includes two plazas) around the federal court. They maintain the violent federal response is greatly disproportionate.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has accused the Trump administration of “brutally attacking peaceful protesters” in Portland.

Lewis-Rolland said that Monday night's demonstration in downtown Portland, a march to the federal courthouse, had started off calm.

"It was magical," said the 39-year-old photographer. "The vibe was beautiful, it was like a tailgate party outside of a football game at an NFL stadium."

"Last night was the cleanest and most wholesome I’ve seen of the protests I’ve been covering," he said.

Absolutely incredible energy down here tonight! I've not seen anything quite like this. I've got goosebumps.

Dozens of mothers from Wall of Moms, a group of moms who have been forming human walls to protect protesters, went to the front of the crowd.

"Feds go home" chanted the crowd in video captured by Lewis-Rolland.

And then a few protesters — among a crowd of hundreds — began to remove the plywood covering the federal court, according to Lewis-Rolland.

A window got broken. And the feds immediately moved in, he said, dropping tear gas on the crowd and shooting rubber bullets, recalled the photographer, and shown in the livestream he recorded. "These guys stormed out of the building and just obliterated everything in sight," said Lewis-Rolland. "My entire body is burning from the gas or the powder or whatever."

"The last picture I take before they storm out is a picture of one of the PDX Wall of Moms with her helmet. She’s probably in her fifties," he said. "The next picture is guns pointed and people getting beat."

A woman in her 50's wearing a construction helmet that says #Wall of Moms
Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

A woman protesting with the Wall of Moms in Portland on July 20.

Department of Homeland Security officials blamed "anarchists" for Monday night's scenes and said seven people were arrested for federal crimes, including assaulting the officers.

They suggested more than 1,000 people were together trying to vandalize the courthouse before trying to throw objects at officers.

"Federal officers responded to this assault by deploying pepper balls and tear gas," the DHS said in a statement. "Rioters continued their assault, throwing canned food rocks, and other projectiles at the officers."

DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said Tuesday in a press conference that a total of 43 people had been arrested in Portland since the officers arrived on July 4.

Lewis-Rolland said in order to make it clear he is press, he wears a helmet with multiple press stickers, a press T-shirt, and a press-labeled backpack. His Nikon camera is wrapped in fluorescent tape so officers can realize quickly it is not a weapon, but he fears one of them will mistake it.

Courtesy Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

Lewis-Rolland displaying the gear he wears to protests.

“I have my hands in the air, I’m marked as press, I’m being fired upon,” he can be heard saying on video during a Facebook livestream he shot Monday night, as he ran behind a tree to avoid rubber bullets.

"I don't livestream to document, I livestream for evidence," he told BuzzFeed News. "I want to make sure whatever happens to me goes into the cloud and everyone can see it."

Lewis-Rolland said at one point in the early morning, the federal officers ambushed protesters, coming out a side door they've never previously used without warning, trapping the crowd and firing upon them.

On July 11, federal officers shot Lewis-Rolland 10 times while he covered the protests. Four of the "less-than-lethal" munitions were hard plastic bullets filled with lead, said Lewis-Rolland.

As Trump threatens to send federal officers to other cities, Lewis-Rolland said people need to understand how federal law enforcement is treating unarmed citizens. "This isn’t about Portland, Oregon. It isn’t about me. It’s about the entire country," he said. "Every night is just getting worse and worse and worse."

Nathan Howard / Getty Images

A protester flies an American flag while walking through tear gas fired by federal officers on July 21.

Lewis-Rolland is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against Portland Police and federal law enforcement arguing that officers at the Portland protests have been targeting journalists and legal observers with rubber bullets and tear gas.

"I'm supposed to be taking pictures of music festivals and weddings this summer," said Lewis-Rolland. "Instead I'm having federal officers point AR-15s at my fucking face."

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